Friday 19 Jul 2019 | 18:49 | SYDNEY
Friday 19 Jul 2019 | 18:49 | SYDNEY

Dispatch from an ediplomacy retreat


Fergus Hanson


9 November 2011 10:45

I hope my boss reads this post, because while I am residing in DC at the moment, I spent the weekend working at a State Department-run retreat gaming out the implications of new technologies on diplomacy. It was another innovative idea from the Office of eDiplomacy that brought together senior diplomats through the American Academy of Diplomacy, technologists from Silicon Valley and some of the up-and-coming generation of new diplomats.  

During two beautiful fall days in the Virginian countryside, these groups were locked in intense debate about the consequences of new technologies. The main exercises took major historical events such as the overthrow of the Marcos regime in the Philippines and the Rwandan genocide, and considered how they might have played out differently in a world with today's technology.

Perhaps the strongest message was that modern technology would have had a substantial impact on these events and in some cases even altered major decisions and possibly the course of history. Technology had the power to dramatically speed up the pace of events (reducing decision timeframes), had a tendency to decentralise leadership and often strengthened the hand of non-state actors.  

Another message was that technology has gotten ahead of our ability to make sense of what's happening. For example, understanding the overwhelming volume of social media messages during a crisis is still very difficult to do, even with the array of new analytic tools coming onto the market.   

And while technology has changed the rules of the game, the diplomatic process has yet to adapt (through, for example, the adoption of ediplomacy tools). This was, of course, a little ironic coming from the foreign service with the world's most advanced ediplomacy effort, but there you have it. 

Finally, it was eye opening to see the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs thinking through these issues alongside their ediplomacy counterparts. There were dozens of tools mentioned for helping the diplomatic process confront this new reality, but where there were gaps in the diplomatic toolkit, there was an impressive enthusiasm for finding a digital solution and an optimism that one could be found.  

Photo by Flickr user mindfieldz.